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ANALYSIS: Jobs Report Gives Legal Workers a Fresh Start in 2021

April 2, 2021, 6:14 PM

Like a spring rain shower, the latest employment figures for legal occupations, released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wash away several months of winter doldrums: March shows undeniable and wide-ranging improvement.

The unemployment rate for workers in legal occupations dipped to 2.3% in March, putting a stop to three straight months of increases. The decrease returns the jobless rate for legal workers to its December 2020 level, effectively wiping out a disastrous start to the year in which the rate rose to a six-month high of 3.3% in February.

Both male and female legal workers experienced a decline in their unemployment rate in March. The rate for women, 2.8%, is down from 4% in February, marking the steepest one-month decline for women since September. The unemployment rate for men in legal occupations also fell, from 2.4% to 1.8%.

A statistical reset for 2021 is also apparent in March’s overall employment totals: Employment in legal occupations rose by about 62,000 workers to 1.85 million, nearly matching the 1.86 million total that closed out 2020.

The legal employment picture looked good for all races and ethnicities tracked by BLS as well. Among Black workers, March’s employment total reached a 10-month high mark of 170,000 in the biggest one-month job increase in almost five years.

Legal employment also improved for White workers (up 16,000) and Asian workers (up 4,000). And it rose by 20,000 for workers of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity; at 193,000, it is at a level not seen since March 2020.

These statistics are encouraging, but amid news reports of a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections in the United States, lasting improvement is not a guarantee. As we noted before, drops in legal employment have accompanied all three of the previous surges in cases. So while today’s good news may be a harbinger of refreshing April showers, there’s no telling whether storm clouds are on the horizon instead.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our In Focus: Legal Operations and In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being resources.

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